One in three union members joined strikes, say employers

UCU says that universities should focus on solving dispute ‘instead of trying to spin their way out of this’

January 7, 2020
UCU strike at Goldsmiths, University of London
Source: Eleanor Bentall

Around one in three University and College Union members joined pre-Christmas industrial action over pay and pensions in UK higher education, according to employers.

The Universities and Colleges Employers Association said that returns from the 58 campuses affected by the disputes indicated that 29.2 per cent of union members took strike action over the eight-day period in November and December, amounting to 5 per cent of all staff in these institutions. UCU also called out members on strike at two research institutes.

Ucea said that participation “was varied and the impact generally low”. Seventy-nine per cent of universities reported generally low or no impact on teaching, although, of those reporting low impact, a third said that they had pockets of medium impact and a quarter had pockets of high impact.

A further 14.3 per cent reported low impact across the whole institution, with 4.1 per cent stating that there had been no impact.

“All 58 affected institutions regret strike action and any resultant disruption that is caused, especially to students,” a Ucea spokesman said.

The strikes ended without a deal and union members on affected campuses have been undertaking “action short of a strike” – which involves working to contract and not covering for absent colleagues – since they ended.

Later in December, the union announced that members at a further 24 higher education institutions were being asked again whether they would be willing to walk out, after failing to meet the turnout threshold in the first ballot.

A UCU spokesman said that “despite trying to play down the solid action from UCU members before Christmas, Ucea also talks about its regret for the disruption caused by the strikes and its fears for further disruption should staff be forced to walk out again”.

“Instead of issuing contradictory statements and trying to spin their way out of this, the employers should focus on working with us to try and resolve the dispute,” he said.

If the dispute is not resolved, union members are expected to strike again, alongside any of the re-balloted branches who vote in favour of action, for 14 days.

Ucea said all institutions involved in the pay and conditions dispute were supportive of continuing dialogue with UCU and “hopeful of it leading to an alternative resolution being put to UCU members”. 

“This dialogue has been focusing on the potential for new sector-level work and commitments on the important issues raised around workload, [gender and ethnicity pay gaps] and casual employment,” the Ucea spokesman said.

UCU has previously said any agreement in the dispute must encompass pay alongside any agreements on equality, casualisation and workloads.

At the end of December, employers, the UCU and the USS agreed to get back around the table in January to discuss the pensions dispute.

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Reader's comments (1)

Unsurprising, a lot of early career academics either aren't worried about their pension yet or dare not put their heads above the parapet lest it affects their career, and as a lot of 'other' staff are still stuck on renewable contracts working in many Universities in the 'gig' economy to make ends meet cannot afford to strike. One Oxford based lecturer I know of who lectures in 4 different widely geographically spread Universities can't afford to strike and if they did which University would record it?.